An industry veteran pays homage to an IFBB Hall of Famer with this timeless shoulder workout.
By Tony Estrada
In January of 2002, an elderly giant walked into Club Fit Pembroke Pines in south Florida and turned nearly every head in the facility. He had a shoulder-length ponytail and the complexion of Ovaltine. I was working as the fitness manager, and he told me he recently celebrated his 60th birthday. After having been a professional bodybuilder back in the day, he was ready to fulfill another dream: becoming a personal trainer. I asked him to come do a workout with me as an informal interview.
It turns out, I was in the presence of greatness. Harold Poole is a member of the IFBB Hall of Fame and still holds the record for being the youngest athlete to compete in a Mr. Olympia. He won Mr. Universe when he was 19 years old and became the first African-American to be crowned Mr. America. (Harold was half African-American and half German—a combination he credited for his great genetics.) In 1965, at the age of 21, he competed in the very first Mr. Olympia. Harold was the only bodybuilder to compete in the first three Mr. Os, placing second all three times. He lost twice to Larry Scott, and then to the legendary Sergio Oliva. He’s still considered to be the best teenage bodybuilder of all time.
In his prime, Harold had the kind of physique that has come back in style today. If a 22-year-old Harold Poole entered a Classic Physique competition in 2017, nobody could touch him.
During our introductory workout, it was obvious Harold knew his stuff. We traded ideas and switched back and forth on who called the next exercise. He loved the Olympic military press while I added the dumbbells. It was old school meets new school, at least for that time.
I helped Harold complete his certification through IPFA, and we immediately hired him. We were friends for two years, and I would drive him home from work at least three days a week. It’s during these trips he would tell me the most extravagant stories about his life.
Harold had a good heart but was plagued by demons of his own. He battled chemical addiction and mental illness, and was on the wrong side of the law more than once in his life. But he was a protector, and he treated his friends and clients like they were his family. My fondest memory of him happened one afternoon at the gym. I had recently undergone surgery on my knee and was sitting at my desk. One of our trainers had an issue with his paycheck, and rather than discussing it, he tried to turn it into a physical altercation. Harold was on the opposite side of our gym, and within seconds he crossed floor and had the trainer’s throat engulfed in his palm. He damn near lifted a 200-pound man off the floor.
What was most impressive about Harold was his level of determination. He did not let the fact that he was an African-American athlete in a small-minded era stop him from achieving his dreams as a bodybuilder. He came to me determined to become a personal trainer at the age of 60, and he did it. His determination to complete whatever he set out to do made him a champion.
In 2014, Harold passed away from pancreatitis. I think of him often and that first workout we did together, which you can see here. To me, he represents a simpler time when bodybuilders trained for the pure enjoyment. He reminded me that fitness is not just about counting reps or seconds, or timing macros and popping pills. Fitness is about being the best you. Reps in peace, my brother in iron. IM
This is the workout that Iron Man writer Tony Estrada, a 20-year veteran of the fitness industry, did the first day he met IFBB legend Harold Poole. It utilizes classic-era bodybuilding techniques such as drop-sets and going to failure, as well as plenty of volume and a reliance on relatively high-rep schemes. New school meets the old school with some modern wisdom on warming up and a few smart pre-hab exercises.
Exercise Sets Reps Load
10 Minutes Of Moderate Cardio
High Row With Triceps Rope 2 20-25 light
External Rotation With Cables 2 15 each side light
High Shoulder Rotation With Cable 2 15 reps side light
Seated Olympic Military Press 3 20, 6-8*, 2-4* 25, 60, 75% 1RM
Overhead Dumbbell Press 2 6-8, to failure 60, 75% 1RM
Lateral Dumbbell Raise 2 10-15 30, 35% 1RM
Seated Front Delt Press 2 10-15 30, 35% 1RM
Supine Anterior Cable Raise 2 10-15, to failure 50, 75%**
Unassisted Dips 2 to failure bodyweight
*If you can perform more than the prescribed reps, go to failure
**Perform a drop set to failure; reduce the weight by 15 percent each drop
Far too many lifters skip a proper warm-up and therefore miss out on many benefits as well as put themselves at risk of injury. A moderate amount of light cardio stimulates and invigorates the body at a cellular level while creating elasticity in the muscles, ligaments, and tendons. It increases the range of motion (ROM) and allows the recruitment of more muscle fiber.
Olympic Military Press
This is the largest compound motion for the muscles responsible for a pushing motion. The first set will be the only one that is not performed to muscular failure. Seated in a straight-back chair, bring the bar down in front of your face. As you go through the eccentric contraction, stop at approximately chin level before returning to the top.
Overhead Dumbbell Press
Switching to dumbbells increases range of motion and will slightly redirect stress to the medial deltoids. Small muscles are recruited for stability and synergy, and are thus exhausted as well. For the dumbbell version of the overhead press, allow your elbows to go just below 90 degrees.
Lateral Dumbbell Raise
To keep the stress on the medial deltoid while performing this exercise with free weights, raise your arms from your sides until they’re parallel with the ground. As they are returned to the lower position, stop at approximately 15 degrees from the hip. The athlete will perform fewer reps than usual while maintaining this form, but the burn is incredible.
Seated Front Delt Press
Having exhausted the lateral deltoids, it’s time to direct more attention to the anterior deltoids. Reps are increased, and weight is modified if necessary to accommodate a higher rep range and to move safely through full range of motion. Starting with the dumbbells at your chin, forcefully press the weight together and bring them overhead. Make sure they are touching the entire time.
Supine Anterior Cable Raise
Set the pulley at the lowest setting. Sit on the floor facing the machine and attach the biceps curl bar. Hold the bar with straight arms, and lie flat on your back. Lower your arms until they are about four inches from the thighs. With straight arms, raise the bar until your hands are just above eye level. Perform the first set until failure and rest. The second set is a drop set until failure with no rest in between drops. After the last rep, reach up and pull yourself up using the metal post—if you can!
At this point I could do no more, but Harold insisted. To Harold, one more meant three. He made his point and secured a job, but he wanted to show that there was a level of determination and ambition that separated him from the rest of the crowd. It was long, slow, and deep reps until failure and a memory that will last forever.